A lot of fun can be had with an rtf racing drone that comes assembled right out of the box. But if you’ve honed your skills on a simulator and spent some time flying an fpv racing drone, you may be ready for the next step: building your own drone. Unless you’re already an engineer, drone racing kits are the perfect stepping stone between flying something pre-assembled and building a racing drone from scratch. They usually come with all the components you need and it’s up to you to put them together. In the process, you’ll learn what all the parts are and how they fit together.
Once you’ve assembled a drone from a kit it will seem easy to switch out specific components in order to upgrade your drone or customize its performance. Before you know it, you’ll have a custom, built-from-scratch drone in the race, which increases your chances of winning considerably. If you haven’t spent much time thinking about how your drone works beyond charging batteries and replacing propellers damaged in a crash, even a kit may seem overwhelming. However, once you familiarize yourself with the components listed below, it should seem more manageable.
What you get in your drone racing kit all depends on the kit. Some rtf kits come with everything listed below, from the frame to the goggles. Many kits are more basic and they only provide the components needed to build the quadcopter, leaving it to you to purchase your own receiver and radio transmitter, goggles, camera, video transmitter, battery and battery charger. If you’ve already got a headset and transmitter you love, a more basic kit may let you keep using them with a better racing drone. If you want to be sure everything will work together without a lot of research, go for an rtf kit.
The following components are all necessary to build a functional fpv racing drone, which is why a kit should include all of them. Also included are some suggestions for when you’re ready to upgrade a component to what the pros use.
The frame is what gives a drone its distinctive shape and provides the base that everything else will be attached to. In the quadcopters used by hobbyists or videographers, frames are sometimes made of plastic or other materials. A racing drone, however, benefits from being as light as possible because when there’s less weight to haul around an obstacle course it can fly faster. That’s why the good ones are made from lightweight carbon and they often have an open design. The compromise is between having a lightweight frame that’s still durable enough to survive a crash.
A good frame for beginners will be a little on the larger side, giving you plenty of room to get everything attached. The downside is this will be a little heavier than something smaller. For a professional grade racing frame, consider the iFlight RACER iX5. The high-quality carbon is durable and light and the frame itself is not overly expensive. It’s on the small side, so it’s better if you have some previous experience with assembly before you upgrade to this frame.
The motors power your propellers to make your drone fly. In a typical quadcopter, which is the most common type of racing drone (though definitely not the only type) there’s one motor to power each propeller. For one of the fastest, most powerful motors, go with the EMAX RS 2205S.
Propellers are the spinning blades that create lift and velocity so your quadcopter can fly. They come with 2, 3 or 4 blades as well as in different sizes. Five inches is probably the most popular size class among racers. What type of propeller you get also depends on your motors. Slower motors can go up to 4 blades while faster ones use propellers with a maximum of 3 blades. DALProp Cyclone is popular pro propellers.
The Power Distribution Board
The Power Distribution Board (PDB) sends power from the battery to the places it needs to go, namely the electronic speed controllers, the receiver, the flight controller, the camera and the video transmitter. You can think of it as your drone’s spinal cord, sending electrical impulses to all its working parts. Some high-end boards, like the Realacc/Matek HUBOSD will even come with On Screen Display, so that you can monitor how much battery power you have left, how much voltage you’re using and other helpful information right in your goggles.
Electronic Speed Controllers
When you use your radio transmitter to tell your drone to speed up or slow down, the electronic speed controllers turn translate that signal into the correct voltage and sends it to your motors. You can either get four separate electronic speed controllers or what’s called a 4in1, which bundles all four into a single component. The advantage to having four separate electronic speed controllers is that if one is damaged in a crash or some other incident you only need to replace one instead of all four.
If you have the money to spend on top-of-the-line components, the DYS XSD 20A electronic speed controllers are some of the best you can get. They can send more power to your motors, and that translates into faster speeds on race day.
The flight controller is your drone’s central processor. Radio signals picked up by the receiver and information from the gyroscope all get processed here so that commands can be forwarded to the relevant components. A more expensive flight controller is going to give you greater processing power, making it a little smarter and more responsive than cheaper options. When you’re ready to upgrade, the Revolt F4 is a great option.
The receiver receives signals from your transmitter, so it’s how you communicate with your drone. Because the receiver and transmitter work together, they must be compatible. In fact, at the more affordable end of the scale the transmitter and receiver are sold together. Any drone racing kit you get will obviously provide you with compatible components, so there’s no need to worry about it. However, if the time comes when you feel like you want to upgrade, the important thing is to double check compatibility.
For the most part this means using a radio transmitter and receiver from the same company, as each has their own protocol. FrSky transmitters and receivers are extremely popular among racers, and for a professional grade receiver, take a look at the FrSky X4RSB.
If there’s one component you don’t want to skimp on, it’s the radio transmitter. This is how you communicate with your drone and control it. If you can afford to splurge on one thing, let it be your transmitter. Investing in a FrSky Taranis x9D up-front can carry you all the way from beginner to pro-level drone racing. It works with all the most popular flight simulators and is also beloved by serious racers.
Batteries provide the power that makes your drone work. Bigger drone batteries provide more power but they also weigh more, which means they require more power to operate. Finding the right balance between weight and power is critical for racing drones, which require minimal weight and maximum power. Most racing drones use a 4S battery with a capacity between 1300 and 1500 mAh, which deliver decent power but are still relatively light. The Dinogy Graphene 2.0 is a top-of-the-line choice.
You also need a battery charger so you can recharge your battery once it runs out. In a kit your charger will always be compatible with your batter, but if you have to replace, double check compatibility before you buy.
Having a good camera can mean the difference between cruising around a course with no problem and smashing your quadcopter to pieces because you couldn’t see clearly when you flew from a darker place to a lighter place. It also makes for a way more intense flight experience when what you see is crisp and clear. If your kit comes with a subpar camera, consider making this one of your first upgrades. The 600TVL Sony is an excellent choice.
The video transmitter is what sends the image captured by your camera to the video receiver in your headset. Most let you change channel, frequency and signal power. The Eachine TX526 gives you great options at a still affordable price.
When it comes to headsets, there’s a huge range in quality and cost. At the low end, you can pay as little as $60, but that gives you a pixelated image that’s probably going to interfere with your ability to navigate a course and greatly diminish the pleasures of fpv flying. At the other end of the spectrum, you can spend hundreds of dollars for goggles that give you a fully immersive experience with amazing resolution, a DVR recorder and it will be comfortable to wear. Fatshark Dominator V3 goggles are some of the best money can buy, but they aren’t cheap.
What Else You Need
Once you’ve picked out a kit, remember you’ll need tools to do the actual assembly. Some of these are basic tools you probably already have in your home tool kit, but there are some you’ll probably have to purchase. Even the best pilots crash sometimes, so having a good collection of tools will allow you to make your own repairs and rebuild your quadcopter, which makes them a worthwhile investment. Here’s a list of what you should have on hand when you build your quad.
- Soldering iron
- Hex drivers
- Wire cutters
- Hot glue gun
With these basic tools, you’ll have everything you need to turn the parts in your drone racing kit into a fully functional racing drone. As you become more comfortable working on drones, you might also consider getting a multimeter to test electrical currents and a power drill so you can make serious modifications when necessary. Drone racing kits are definitely the gateway to building drones from scratch. Once you have assembled your first drone kit, you’re on your way to having the skills and knowledge to create a one-of-a-kind, custom-built racing drone that performs exactly how you want it to.